The Dallas Stars will have a new head coach in 2022-23 after Rick Bowness decided to step down following the Game 7 loss to the Calgary Flames. This will be the ninth head coach in Stars history and the fifth hire of the Jim Nill era. Dallas has a few paths that they can go here. They could bring in an experienced and top market name that has proven themselves at the NHL level, try out a coach who has some experience but perhaps has not coached in a few years, or go completely out of the box with an under-the-radar name like they did with Jim Montgomery in 2018.
“I need to sit down with our ownership group and talk to them about the plan moving forward and we’ll make that decision from there,” Nill said. “I’m hoping in the next five to six days to know what direction we’re heading in.”
While there are many potential candidates, a few names have been mentioned and make sense for the current position of this team.
Experienced NHL Coaches
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise as Trotz is arguably the leading free-agent coach on the market. After bringing the New York Islanders to the final four two seasons in a row (eventually falling to the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning both times), he and his club suffered a tough season in 2021-22. After beginning the year on a massive 17-game road trip while they waited for their new arena to be built, the team found some late success despite being well out of a playoff spot by Christmas.
Trotz has coached 1,812 games in the NHL and has a Stanley Cup on his resume in 2018 with the Washington Capitals. He brings a no-nonsense structure that will be familiar in Dallas but is it enough of a change from the defense-heavy Stars team we have seen recently? Do Nill and his staff want it to be a big change?
Another big name on the market is former Vegas Golden Knights boss Pete Deboer. Deboer is best known for the continuing success of the expansion Knights, who made it to the final four in both of his first two seasons before missing the playoffs in 2021-22. In today’s NHL, however, one missed postseason could be enough to warrant a change and that is exactly what happened in Sin City. I mean, heck, Vegas fired Gerard Gallant mid season after bringing them to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season and making the playoffs the following year.
Deboer had an excellent 98-50-12 record in Vegas and has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice, coaching Joe Pavelski in San Jose along with stints in Florida and New Jersey.
Now an NHL analyst, Rick Tocchet is a similar no-nonsense coach to Trotz. Unknown to many, the Stars reportedly were ready to hire Tocchet at the All-Star break this season but were unable to come to terms on a deal, forcing them to stick with their current staff. This makes Tocchet a top candidate to take over this summer. Tocchet has a long playing resume and coached the Tampa Bay Lightning and Arizona Coyotes (with large gaps between them) from 2008-2021.
He has a 178-200-60 record but do not let that fool you as he was in charge of a very poor Yotes team for most of his career. While he is known for being a strict coach, he has also shown a fun and quirky side as an analyst on TNT this season, so perhaps he could be the perfect blend that Dallas is looking for.
This was not a name included on most lists when Bowness stepped down but has quickly jumped to the top since then. As reported on 32 Thoughts, Savard has been linked to Dallas and appears to be a candidate on Nill’s list. The former NHL forward had 207 goals and 499 assists in 807 career NHL games before his career was cut short due to concussion issues in 2011. He watched that season as his Boston Bruins teammates skated to a Stanley Cup and although he technically did not play enough games to be eligible, the Bruins petitioned and got his name on the cup.
“I don’t want to handicap where Marc Savard fits in this equation, but let’s just say he is very much on Jim Nill’s radar,” Jeff Marek said.
Savard served as an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues in 2019-20 before being named the head coach of the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League in 2021. The Spitfires are currently in the third round of the OHL playoffs, advancing past the first round for the first time since 2011. On that Windsor roster, and playing a massive role, is Stars 2021 first-round pick, Wyatt Johnston. Under Savard, Johnston led all OHL players with 124 points in 68 regular-season games and has continued to dominate in the playoffs.
Quinn last coached the New York Rangers from 2018 to 2021 during a full rebuild. In that time, he went 96-87-25 with one of the youngest and least experienced rosters in the league. Undoubtedly, he is a large part of the successful team that is currently in the second round of the playoffs.
On top of his NHL coaching, he also spent five seasons behind the bench of Boston University. During that time, he both recruited and coached one Jake Oettinger. He never won the big prize but his 2014-15 team did lose in the National Championship game.
Gronborg has had his name mentioned more than once over the past few years as one of the top European coaches that could cross over to the NHL. Currently coaching the ZSC Lions in Switzerland, Gronborg was the coach of the Men’s and Junior Sweden teams over the last decade. His Lions team lost in the finals of the National League in 2021-22. Gronborg also played defense for St. Cloud State and professionally in Sweden before becoming a coach.
Jere Lehtinen is a name that most Stars fans are very familiar with. Serving as one of the best defensive forwards in the league, Lehtinen played his entire 14-year career in Dallas and was a huge part of their 1999 Stanley Cup championship. Now, he coaches the Finnish national team and has played a vital role in bringing the ‘Finnish Mafia’ of Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, Esa Lindell, Joel Kivitanta, and Jani Hakanpaa to Dallas.
Lehtinen has brought loads of success to Finland on the International level, including a World Championship in 2019 and an Olympic Gold Medal in 2022, the first in their history. While he has never coached in the NHL, he knows what it takes to win and is very familiar with the Stars organization as a whole.
Searching for a head coach is a tough gig. While any of these names could make their case, this hire is vital for Jim Nill with his contract expiring after the 2022-23 season. After cycling through many coaches over the years, the organization and the city of Dallas really need this one to stick.
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!